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One of the most abused terms in media pieces, this term generally refers to a form of government characterized by the rejection of political plurality, with constraints on the legislature, political parties and interest groups, the use of a strong central power to preserve the political status quo, with minimal political mobilization, and suppression of anti-regime activities, and reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic voting.

Variations in meaning for this term render it almost meaningless without a substantial and clear exposition of the instruments of power and government being referred to. In extreme cases, it is used to connote any form of government which does not align with western, republican, multi-party democracies.

The term is most frequently employed as a pejorative with an implicit assumption that the reader already agrees with the arbitrary connotations given by the author. As such, in most cases, especially in western media, it can simply be rejected as rhetorical, with little substantial bearing on any arguments or reporting.

As an example, there is little to discriminate between what one might call "an authoritarian regime" and "a regime".